2915 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
CUISINE Irish/Welsh, Bar/Pub Grub
PRICE $$ ($13-$20)
HOURS Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily; weekend brunch.
NVM AWARDS Best New Restaurant 2007
NEARBY METRO Orange(Clarendon)
By Warren Rojas
Although there appears to be no shortage of so-called Irish pubs along the Wilson Boulevard strip (we spotted nearly a half-dozen Irish-themed establishments between Rosslyn and Ballston alone), Ri Ra seems to have carved out a loyal following for itself by offering good food, a welcoming environment and a clever twist on community relations.
A 2006 addition to the chain’s string of refurbished Irish bars (the original Ri Ra was launched in Charlotte, N.C., in March 1997 by Dubliners David Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan), the Arlington location features the same lacquered woods and ornate fixtures that have helped the restoration-inclined organization spread up and down the East Coast. General manager Rob Pearson said the company brought over Irish architects and carpenters to piece together pub elements collected from historical properties across Ireland that comprise the fully transplanted bar.
According to Pearson, the company remains committed to bringing Irish-born workers over to work in the reconstructed U.S. pubs, but noted that stricter immigration laws have made it that much harder to recruit overseas. Still, Pearson appears to have plenty of authenticity in the ranks, as evidenced by a recent visit where a British bartender traded friendly barbs with my Irish compatriots, and another marked by a friendly Irishman who referred to me and another group of friends exclusively as “lads.”
The bar currently carries a slew of traditional Irish/English/Welsh beverages, including Guinness, Magners, Harp, Bass, Boddingtons and Smithwick’s on tap, while Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Belhaven Scottish Ale and more are available in the coolers. The restaurant is also a big purveyor of nearly a dozen Guinness blends, ranging from a traditional Black and Tan (Guinness and Bass) to the custom Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne).
Perhaps the only thing better than drawing down a few pints is deciding which beers get marquee billing.
In an effort to drum up some additional bar business, Pearson recently introduced a new Connoisseur Pint Club. Members pay an annual fee ($5) and earn prizes for working their way through various different styles of beer. More importantly, CPC members are invited to monthly meetings where Pearson allows them to preview, then vote on the featured draft of the month. At press time, Pearson estimated the CPC membership at about 75 people.
The food menu isn’t quite as democratic, but remains no less appealing.
Plump, meaty Guinness wings are coated in a molasses-like barbecue sauce awash in the porters’ trademark chocolate/coffee tones. A made-to-order boxty summons a savory potato-scallion crepe folded over a bed of the seasoned ground beef and vegetable brew, all covered in a tasty cheddar ale sauce and flanked by a mountain of well-whipped mashed potatoes.
A soothing bowl of beef and Guinness stew reveals chunks of tender roast beef, half-moon-shaped carrots and chopped onions bobbing in a tangy beer broth, with an island of more whipped potatoes added for color. Some complementary Irish soda bread is also provided for avid dippers.
Best of all, authentic Irish and English condiments, like HP steak sauce (A1’s overseas competition) and Colman’s spicy mustard, are never further than a flick of the wrist.
Best New Celtic Transplant(March 2007)
By Warren Rojas
Not ones to wait till the middle of March to celebrate their heritage, the proud Irish expatriates at the new Rí Rá share their culture, cuisine and camaraderie with all who pass through their royal blue doors.
The one-time hardware store (the Virginia Hardware Company sign still juts out from the roof) has been reborn as an upscale pub with a sleek-looking bar heavy on imported drafts, a two-tier dining area and a jovial band of fair-skinned servers that bid you welcome in a prominent brogue. Emerald Isle staples like Colman's mustard and the vinegary HP sauce (the British A1) are available to spice up any meal, while parched gullets can seek solace in a meticulously poured Guinness or a refreshing glass of Magners cider.
As expected, the menu is rife with Celtic standards (corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips) and pub grub like custom burgers and made-to-order sandwiches.
Meaty wings are coated in a robust Guinness barbecue sauce bolstered by crushed pepper. Fried potato cakes yield lacy patties accented with sour cream and a balsamic reduction. A thick and hearty shepherd's pie heaps drifts of whipped potatoes atop an almost chili-like ground beef brew. Lamb stew is populated with hefty cubes of tender lamb and vegetables in a thick, cream broth. And you'll require a lot more than luck to dispatch a gut-busting traditional breakfast stacked with jumbo sausages (bangers), grilled ham steaks (rashers), black and white pudding (rounds of homemade blood and bloodless sausage, respectively), baked beans, fried eggs and Irish soda bread.